“The Social Network,” “Catfish” offer distinct looks at Facebook

By Jonathan Higdon

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (UTC/The Loop) — It has become the college student routine. Wake up. Check Facebook. Go to class. Check Facebook. Eat Lunch. Check Facebook. You get the idea. A modern Animal House would look completely different from what John Belushi offered more than 30 years ago. So what’s a filmmaker to do? Make a movie about Facebook, of course! Two great films about the social networking site have been released recently, offering two very different views on what has become a cultural phenomenon.

The Social Network, from The West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin, gives a slightly fictionalized take on the origins of Facebook. In the film, Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg—Adventureland, Zombieland) is portrayed as the egotistical CEO Silicon Valley legend has made him out to be. Zuckerberg himself has since refuted the implications the film makes about his character, but Eisenberg truly steals the show with his superb acting.

Besides delivering an (albeit somewhat distorted) look into the origins of Facebook, The Social Network offers one of the first mainstream success stories set in the computer science industry. Students have already said they are inspired by what they saw in the film, and have expressed an interest in computer programming because of Zuckerberg’s success with Facebook. Zuckerberg has already changed the present with his creation; now it appears he will be indirectly changing the future, as well.

Whereas The Social Network lauds Facebook by immortalizing its place in today’s culture, Catfish takes a different approach. This documentary follows Yaniv Schulman, a New York photographer who begins a relationship with a family after receiving a painting from the family’s eight-year-old daughter. When Schulman travels to visit the family in person and learns that they aren’t exactly as they advertised online, he learns an important lesson which he passes on to the audience.

The movie serves as a warning to the threats posed by the socialization of the Internet. Social networking sites like Facebook can be an important tool in society, however they also have a darker side. Catfish provides a glimpse into the real story of a man who was a victim of the easy anonymity of the Internet, but also warns on the dangers of easily accessible information made available on Facebook.

Although Catfish and The Social Network explore two completely different sides of Facebook, it is safe to say that the film industry is ready to explore this new branch of social culture. Hopefully impressionable audiences will not only be inspired by Zuckerberg in The Social Network, but will also heed the warnings laid out in Catfish and deliver us into a new, better age of social networking.